Kendyl Crawley Crawford, GC’18, didn’t know it at the time, but her reaction to news coverage of a natural disaster and the human toll it wrought was a harbinger of things to come.

“The moment that I talk about — my kind of awakening — happened when I was in high school, seeing Hurricane Katrina,” she said. “I’d come home from school and see all of the devastating impacts and the folks that were left behind.”

Now, she is the director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based group dedicated to organizing statewide efforts surrounding climate change and “environmental justice — making sure that everyone has access to clean air, clean water, safe and stable climate, and clean land.” She advocates with vulnerable populations in places such as Union Hill, a historic African American community in rural Buckingham County, Virginia, and the site of a proposed natural-gas compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“You can see who gets saddled with environmental burdens versus environmental benefits in our community,” said Crawley Crawford, the commencement speaker for her graduating class at UR’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, where she earned a master’s degree in nonprofit studies.

Beyond her background — she majored in marine and environmental science as an undergraduate at Hampton University, received a Marshall Scholarship to study air pollution in London, and worked as an organizer with various nonprofits focused on climate change — her straightforward logic saliently supports her work.

“We intimately depend on the environment around us, although we may not think about it every day,” said Crawley Crawford, a native of Hampton Roads, one of the most at-risk areas for sea-level rise and storm surge in the country. “We still have a lot of work to do within our society in terms of achieving ‘liberty and justice for all.’”